Visual snow syndrome, the spectrum of perceptual disorders, and migraine as a common risk factor: A narrative review
Antonia Klein MD, Christoph J. Schankin MD
First published: 27 September 2021
The aim of this narrative review is to explore the relationship between visual snow syndrome (VSS), migraine, and a group of other perceptual disorders.
VSS is characterized by visual snow and additional visual and nonvisual disturbances. The clinical picture suggests a hypersensitivity to internal and external stimuli. Imaging and electrophysiological findings indicate a hyperexcitability of the primary and secondary visual areas of the brain possibly due to an impairment of inhibitory feedback mechanisms. Migraine is the most frequent comorbidity. Epidemiological and clinical studies indicate that other perceptual disorders, such as tinnitus, fibromyalgia, and dizziness, are associated with VSS. Clinical overlaps and parallels in pathophysiology might exist in relation to migraine.
We performed a PubMed and Google Scholar search with the following terms: visual snow syndrome, entoptic phenomenon, fibromyalgia, tinnitus, migraine, dizziness, persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD), comorbidities, symptoms, pathophysiology, thalamus, thalamocortical dysrhythmia, and salience network.
VSS, fibromyalgia, tinnitus, and PPPD share evidence of a central disturbance in the processing of different stimuli (visual, somatosensory/pain, acoustic, and vestibular) that might lead to hypersensitivity. Imaging and electrophysiological findings hint toward network disorders involving the sensory networks and other large-scale networks involved in the management of attention and emotional processing. There are clinical and epidemiological overlaps between these disorders. Similarly, migraine exhibits a multisensory hypersensitivity even in the interictal state with fluctuation during the migraine cycle. All the described perceptual disorders are associated with migraine suggesting that having migraine, that is, a disorder of sensory processing, is a common link.
VSS, PPPD, fibromyalgia, and chronic tinnitus might lie on a spectrum of perceptual disorders with similar pathophysiological mechanisms and the common risk factor migraine. Understanding the underlying network disturbances might give insights into how to improve these currently very difficult to treat conditions.
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